“Roads get wider and busier and less friendly to pedestrians. And all of the development based around cars, like big sprawling shopping malls. Everything seems to be designed for the benefit of the automobile and not the benefit of the human being.” Bill Bryson
“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe
“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realise that you cannot eat money.” Old Cree saying
These three quotations, in their own ways, all seem to be particularly apt to that road they’re constructing below us!
Ever since we arrived here in April 2006, we’ve endeavoured to live as simply as possible, in harmony with Mother Nature. Likewise with our energy consumption – harnessing the munificent power of the sun for most of our electricity and water needs. Because our little wooden house occupies a prominent position on the side of an 850m hill, we have ensured that whatever we do here is as low impact as possible. We’ve planted hundreds of trees, surrounded ourselves with stone walls and on the rare occasion that we use concrete, it is quickly covered with brown paint.
But the concept of ‘low impact’ does not seem to apply to what has been done on the works below us. Around their precious areas of Parque Natural, the Junta have always forcibly demonstrated their aversion to concrete, so it is somewhat paradoxical to be confronted with a vast expanse of whiter than white concrete stretching below us into the distance. The land has been carved up and scarred. In addition, where they’ve shored up the four crevasse areas, it looks as though they have taken pains to use the worst possible colour match of boulders.
But what is perplexing people around here, particularly in view of the parlous state of the municipal coffers, is the scale and extent of the works. The men are still laying concrete, not just where they’ve repaired the track but, rather unnecessarily, they are actually continuing along its entire 2km length, a beautiful, unspoiled country track, full of wildflowers and smelling of wild thyme and rosemary.
There are already strong indicators that despite all the money that has been piled into this project – all the hundreds of tonnes of concrete, the materials, the man hours, the travel and diesel – it has a built-in obsolescence. Large cracks have appeared all over the surface of the new road, many of which run as deep as the concrete itself, 5-6″. The edge of the concrete is not finished off and will deteriorate over time.
As it happens, the road is actually not wide enough to comfortably accommodate two vehicles and there are no passing places. This means one vehicle will have to reverse for a considerable distance or risk pulling off the concrete onto bare earth. The consequences of which are either plummeting off the edge (as a puff of wind will blow over the concrete posts they’ve carefully constructed as a safety measure) or risk getting stuck and damaging the sump.
And what happens when it rains this year and subsequent years? This, after all, is the reason why they’re doing the work in the first place. I’ve already reported in earlier posts about what the rainfall over one day did to undermine the soil below the huge stone wall.
In the UK civil engineering projects would be monitored regularly, any snagging carried out and then duly signed-off before it was paid for but I think it must be different out here. Sadly, despite all our high hopes, the structure thus far doesn’t seem to be fit for purpose and is not the belt-and-braces project that we had first thought.
It’s still progress, you might say, but who actually benefits from this white concrete elephant? The bill for the works must be considerable and I can’t see that anybody would be satisfied with the quality. So this begs the question: are the contractors doing everything on the cheap and hoping no-one will notice, or are the customer and contractors working in cohoots to their mutual benefit, being fully cognisant of the discrepancies?
The jury (if there is one) is out! All we know is that, at least for the time being, we aren’t in any danger of not being able to get to our drive. But before the winter we will do all we can to protect our access at the vulnerable point where concrete meets loose soil. Other than that, there are worse things to worry about, and worry is so unproductive.